Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees will be arriving in the United States, according to recent news. We have witnessed in the media the chaotic and difficult-to-watch images of the refugees desperate to flee their country after the Taliban’s takeover. The Refugees and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a nonprofit agency that helps refugees settle in Texas, is currently rushing to accommodate the sudden influx of refugees by providing housing, schooling and groceries. According to RAICES, many of the incoming refugees are highly educated and have college degrees. Although, at this stage, refugees are now taking starter jobs at packaging or local food processing plants in San Antonio, Texas. RAICES believes that after they settle in financially and culturally, they should be able to get permanent jobs and become self-supported.
Some people have concerns about accepting Afghan refugees, or even vehemently oppose them coming to the U.S. You might hear statements like, “How could the U.S. government welcome people coming from a country that is a safe haven for terrorism?”, “these refugees will be a drain to our welfare system” or that “these people are a threat to the American values.”
Such rhetoric and mistrust of refugees are not new. Personally, I don’t know of any immigrant group in the Western world that hasn’t faced some sort of xenophobia. For example, after the Fall of Saigon in April 1975, many Vietnamese people fled their homeland with deep pain and suffering. When they arrived in the U.S., they were labeled “communist infiltrators” and “Vietnamese parasites.” Despite this harassment, the Vietnamese refugees fought against and overcame descrimination.
Although the first generation of Vietnamese immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s was slow to assimilate into American society due to a myriad of factors, the second generation, Vietnamese Americans, has not done too poorly. Today, we can witness the contributions of Vietnamese Americans across all fields, as businesses and restaurant owners to employees in Silicon Valley and NASA. After nearly 45 years, Vietnamese immigrants have not infiltrated communism into American society, contrary to Americans’ initial perceptions.
A more up-to-date example of a positive outcome of allowing refugees can be seen in Germany. According to Helen Dempster, nearly 700,000 Syrian refugees were admitted to Germany between 2011 and 2019. 75% of those refugees were younger than 40. Now, 50% of them have a good command of the German language and have filled job shortages in Germany. While social integration remains an issue, it is to be expected with the first wave of immigration in any country. They need some time to assimilate and integrate. In this case, it becomes quicker and easier for their children since they will be born and raised in German society. I am positive that in the next 20 or 30 years, most of German society will admit that Chancellor Angela Merkel made the right decision to grant asylum to refugees over the second decade of this century.
As for the current Afghan refugees, we need to realize that these people are not political tools used to support or undermine political arguments; they have paid the tremendous price of fleeing their home country in search of security and opportunity. Who would want to live in a failed state in which public services cannot be provided? Even worse, the current situation in Afghanistan is incredibly complex in that it is nearly impossible to identify who can be held accountable. If the Afghan refugees had even a glimmer of hope that the situation in their country is improving, they likely would never have tried to flee towards Iran, Pakistan, India, Europe and North America. Most people feel attached to the place in which they were born and raised.
America has always based itself on welcoming immigrants. The social, economic and cultural assimilation of immigrants in America is easier, more efficient and more successful compared to that in Europe. In about three decades, people will draw similarities between the Vietnamese and the Afghani immigration to America. To those who continue to whip up xenophobia, remember that you yourself are most likely a second, third or multi-generation immigrant in the United States. America’s story is an immigrant’s story, and its generosity and passion will always defeat its bigotry and hatred.